This week, Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook talk about reparations (and more) with UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Charles Henry, who is also the former president of the National Council for Black Studies and former chair of Amnesty International USA. In 2007, years ahead of his time, Professor Henry wrote a book on the issue of reparations, “Long Overdue. The Politics of Racial Reparations.” Reparation, Professor Henry reminds us, is about repairing and thus is far more than a financial transaction; it cannot be tidily achieved with a one-off check intended to close definitively the chapter on hundreds of years of slavery and discrimination. Rather, reparation is intimately linked to restorative justice — the need to recognize a wrong done, to listen to voices expressing pain and anger and suffering, to atone and finally to find a sense of closure that all parties can feel. Ultimately, Professor Henry says, reparations can lead to rebuilding of community in such a way that the desire for vengeance is diminished and fear can be replaced by hope for a more just and loving community, one where people know they belong:
Instead of retribution what we want is restorative justice. It’s the kind of thing that Martin Luther King talked about when he was asked about violence, and when you’d have discussions of KAMU and others. Vengeance or retribution only leads to more violence. King, when he talked about colonialism, he would say, the objective of African Americans is not to separate in a separate colony or to kick whites out of the country as in colonial Africa, but to live in the same country. To reconcile with white Americans — and to have that, you need restorative justice not retribution.
If we think, as Professor Henry suggests, of reparations as a process instead of a payment, it can become the basis for an ongoing, dynamic, harmonious relationship with our history and with each other.
Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio where we explore the power of active nonviolence worldwide. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m here with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. On today’s show, Michael Nagler speaks with Professor Charles Henry. He’s a professor emeritus from UC Berkeley of African American Studies. And he’s the former president of the National Council for Black Studies and former chair of Amnesty International USA.
His book “Long Overdue. The Politics of Racial Reparations” was published in 2007 and was ahead of the curve when it comes to discussing reparations in the United States. On the show we talk to him about the politics of reparations, what they are, how people can get involved, and also the politics behind restorative justice. Let’s tune in.
Michael: Greetings everyone and welcome to a new addition of Nonviolence Radio. I am here with a friend and colleague of mine this morning, Professor Charles Henry, who is a professor emeritus like myself. But he was in African American studies. And he’s a former president of the National Council for Black Studies, and former chair of Amnesty International, USA. So, his expertise is in race in America, Black identity in leadership, and he has been writing recently, have you not, Charles, about reparations?
Charles: I have. I have a 2007 book called, “Long Overdue.” At the time it came out there was a lot less interest in reparations than there is now. The presidential campaigns in 2000, 2004, 2008, none of the candidates wanted to talk about reparations. This last campaign, every Democratic candidate wanted to talk about reparations. So, there’s been a new spark of interest in the issue.
Michael: In other words, Charles, it sounds like you were ahead of the curve as usual.
Charles: Well, being ahead of the curve means your book doesn’t sell anything, Michael.
Michael: I know that one. Well, tell me, for myself and for our listeners, what exactly is reparations? How do we go about it? What would it cost? And what would it accomplish?
Charles: I’m glad you asked that question because it’s often seen as, you know, somebody says, “Well, why should I write you a check?” It’s a bit more involved than that and doesn’t always involve a check. It’s a process. Someone called it “Truth and Reconciliation,” others have a term that involves three steps.
One is acknowledgment that a wrong has been committed, so, some recognition or admission on the part of perpetrators or beneficiaries of some injustice. As the first step, you need the acknowledgment. Then you need some sort of redress, and redress often takes a couple of forms. It might be restitution, or if we’re in a situation in which restitution is impossible, at least some sort of atonement.
And then finally, some sort of closure. In other words, there must be a mutual kind of reconciliation between the perpetrators and the victims so there can be a reconciliation and hopefully the prevention of any future injustice. So, it doesn’t always involve financial restitution.
For example, the whole notion of removing names of confederate leaders or colonialists or imperialists from buildings or schools. We have almost 2000 confederate monuments and statues in this country in the north as well as the south. Most of them were not put up immediately after the Civil War, but at the end of the last century and the beginning of this century as reminders that Blacks should keep their place.
The National African American History and Culture Museum in Washington D.C. which I pushed for for years, and mentioned in my book before it happened, the struggle to get this museum — this would be an example of reparations because you’re trying to teach people about the past, as the Holocaust Museum does in Washington D.C. But also educate people to prevent any repetition of the past in the future.
Michael: Boy, you know, as you’re describing that, Charles, it sounds so much to me like the general trajectory of restorative justice.
Charles: Exactly. Instead of retribution what we want is restorative justice. It’s the kind of thing that Martin Luther King talked about when he was asked about violence, and when you’d have discussions of KAMU and others. Vengeance or retribution only leads to more violence. King, when he talked about colonialism, he would say, the objective of African Americans is not to separate in a separate colony or to kick whites out of the country as in colonial Africa, but to live in the same country. To reconcile with white Americans — and to have that, you need restorative justice not retribution.
Michael: Exactly. It makes me think of something that the extremists and white nationalists have been saying in their rallies. They would say, “You will not replace us.” In other words, the idea that we may want to join them doesn’t occur. Their thinking is it has to be either you or me. Whereas what you are working on, what you’re saying is, “Can’t we be together?” Would that be a good paraphrase?
Charles: Right. It’s often occurred to me that one of the reasons there’s such objection to Black Power is that whites are afraid Blacks would use that power in the same way that they used the power, which was not restorative kinds of uses of power. Or women having power — one of the reasons men fear it is that women bosses will be just like men bosses, which is not good.
It’s the notion of we’re all in this together and not this notion of “It’s our country, take it or leave.” You know, America, love it or leave it. Let’s make it a better America.
Michael: Oh boy, is that attractive. It sounds like from what you’re saying that an important part of the work leading up to the kind of reparations that you are talking about, where the perpetrators, mainly white folks, will enter into it voluntarily. A part of that work is reassurance that we’re not going to abuse power the way you did.
Charles: Yeah. It’s ironic that a term that means to repair – reparations, to repair, to repair broken relationships — I think across the board we can agree that relationships in the United States are frayed on a variety of fronts. A notion that means “to repair” would be a notion that there’s such visceral and emotional reaction to.
For years people said, “We don’t want to discuss it;” people on the right, but also on the left. You had people on the left saying to bring up the issue of reparations divides the working class and will pit whites against Blacks and so we can’t have talk of reparations. It’s kind of ironic that a term that’s meant to bring people together towards restorative justice and repair relationships has been seen as such a divisive kind of issue.
If you look at public opinion polling across a whole variety of issues, you’ll not find a greater divide on the question of whether Blacks should get reparations among whites and Blacks. When people like to bring up the issue of, “Well, it’s all about money,” I said, “How about an apology?”
In the 1980s, Representative Tony Hall of Dayton, a white representative introduced a resolution in congress to apologize as a kind of reparation. He said he got more hate mail around this issue of just an apology than any piece of legislation he introduced.
One of the reasons that got me thinking about the book was that George Bush went to Goree Island off the coast of Senegal during his presidency and apologized to Africans for the African slave trade.Before that, Bill Clinton had gone to the same place, Goree Island, and apologized to Africans for the African slave trade. But neither one would go to Charleston or Savannah or New Orleans or New York City, which were all sites of slave marts and apologize to African Americans.
I don’t think you can – and I say this in the context of a year in which fake news has become a big item — but I don’t think you’re going to make any progress on reparations until there’s an acknowledgment that a wrong was done, that a harm has been done, and is present today.
As I said, it’s kind of ironic that a term that means to repair has drawn so much fire. And until there’s an acknowledgment that a harm was done, I don’t think we can talk about any kind of restitution. There has to be an acknowledgment of slavery and illegal segregation and current discrimination. Mitch McConnell is one of the people I cite because he was talking about this during Obama’s term, that he doesn’t believe he should be writing checks for slavery committed in the south 100 and some years ago.
I can cite all kinds of discrimination against African Americans during my lifetime, including not being able to marry who I wanted, not being able to live in the neighborhoods I wanted to live in, not being able to go to school where I wanted to go to school. It’s not talking about something in the distant past, it’s talking about contemporary discrimination.
If anything has come out over the last year, we can see that the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted many gaps, including the feelings that Black life is worth less in the United States.
Michael: You know, it sounds to me like what you’ve identified and what you’re talking about right now is the real sticking point. You may remember that when the destroyer, USS Vincennes, got some faulty information and shot down an Iranian liner carrying 270 passengers, George H.W. Bush who was the vice president at that time said – and this is something that’s been ringing in my ears ever since and I think now I’m beginning to understand why — he said, “I don’t care what the facts are, I will never apologize for the American people.”
Charles: Yeah. Yeah.
Michael: So, it’s enabling people to have constraints to stand up and say, “I did something wrong,” and then be able to add, “but that’s not who I am.”
Charles: Yeah. We see it, or we’re going to see it today in terms of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, just a refusal to acknowledge facts and hide behind all kinds of subterfuge. Until we can agree on a common set of facts — and this often leads to a discussion of social media and all of that. Where are the Walter Cronkites of today that we kind of had an agreement on the right and left that, yeah this is the situation? We might have different solutions to that situation, but these are the facts on the ground. Now we can’t agree to the facts on the ground.
If you can’t agree to that, then you can’t really discuss multiple solutions and say, “Well, my solution to the situation is better than yours and this is why,” because we don’t have an agreement on what the problem is.
Michael: Oh my gosh. What do we do about that?
Charles: Well, we have to bring some scientists in here to talk about the devaluation of science. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff recently and one sees a real lack of focus on moral values, overriding moral values in discussions around the free market, for example, which has sort of driven our economy since – well, forever, but particularly from the Reagan administration on. We’ve abandoned any kind of planning and sort of the Great Society kind of programs to say, “Let the free market decide.”
We’re not going to make a decision about child poverty. The free market is going to make those decisions for us. And that combined with a sort of Christian nationalism in terms of evangelicalism that doesn’t rely on facts, but relies on faith and is looking for somehow a savior or redemption, etc., has brought about a kind of toxic combination where we don’t have a rational discussion about moral values and what the government can and can’t do.
Instead of talking about small government as Bill Clinton started to do, we’re talking about anti-government now. We’re talking about anarchy and libertarianism and all kinds of QAnon sorts of theories. I know it’s something you’ve talked about in terms of moral values and, as I keep saying in terms of watching the discussions on television reminding me of one of my favorite movies, “Brother, Where art Thou?” where they’re talking about moral fiber. Where are some Republicans with moral fiber? There used to be a few of them out there, you know?
When you’re cheering for Liz Cheney, you know things have really shifted in the Republican party. And you’re looking at George Schultz as a guy who would be considered way too liberal to be in the Republican party these days. I think there’s a real question around moral values that this country is searching for, and you don’t get moral values through playing video games or shopping on the shoppers’ network, whatever that shoppers’ network is called.
I think as people sit at home during the pandemic and don’t have the opportunity to go to the mall and shop — I know Amazon’s business is going up — and I’m sure you’ve thought about this too, sitting at home gives you a chance to reflect, maybe to think with your family through some things. I know some people want to get out of their houses because they are forced to be with their families, but to think about family relationships and to think about relationships outside the family that are important to you that you miss because you can’t have that kind of contact. It’s long past time that we have that kind of reflection about our moral values.
Michael: It’s a learning experience for sure, but we have to be willing to take it as such. So you see this very sharp divide happening where some families are doing exactly what you were just describing, getting closer together, thinking about where they’re going in life and about things that really matter, but others are just at one another’s throats.
Charles: Yeah. And we talk about this in our own family in terms of adult children moving back in and so forth and so on, and people not having childcare so they can’t go to work. But, you know, historically, it’s been just a very short period of time since, and only in developed countries, or maybe not so developed because we don’t have professional childcare here, that you had multigenerational families.
You had grandparents and parents and adult children living together, and those families were functional and had seniors passing along wisdom to the folks that are younger, etc., etc. When you live in a country where people move every three or four years and you don’t know the neighbors around you and you’re a single parent or something, we really lose that experience and those values and those relationships.
Michael: Boy Charles, there’s a lot to think about here, but I want to get back to reparations for a second, reparations specifically because I had a question to ask you about that. I had a vague recollection — and maybe you can help me fill it in — that there have been in this country some small scale successful examples of reparations, specifically with regard to Native Americans. Do you know anything about that? Or if not, are their other precedents for reparations that were done right and worked out?
Charles: Yeah, there have been. The Obama administration settled some reparations claims which had been very long-standing with Native Americans. There was also a settlement in the Pigford case – Pigford versus the Department of Agriculture around Black farmers who had been denied farm loans by the agriculture administration. That case had dragged on and was settled in the early 2000s. It was a 1997 case.
At the turn of the 20th century Black landowners owned several million acres of land. It was reduced dramatically in the 20th century and part of the reason was the failure of the government to grant loans to Black farmers. But there have been more recent examples at the local level: Chicago gave reparations to victims of police torture in Chicago within the last five to six years. The Chicago City council did that. Six states have passed apologies for slavery. Virginia gave, with the help of a private donor, reparations to people who were impacted by Virginia – especially Prince Edward County closing its public schools to prevent integrating after the Brown Decision.
The public schools in Prince Edward County were shut down. Private white academies were created. You can imagine that Black students had nowhere to go for high school which impacted them dramatically. And 30, 40 years later at least there’s a fund there for their children and grandchildren to draw on to go to college, etc. So, there are examples like that.
I talk in my book about the example of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rosewood, Florida. There were incidents – a lot of people are hearing about Tulsa now, but actually, Rosewood had a Hollywood film made about it maybe 15 years ago and a fairly popular book that came out. The people in – you know, we don’t have time to go greatly into the cases. They revolve around Blacks being accused of attacking a white woman in each case. The cases were never tried and there’s a great deal of evidence that the charges were false. But it led to Blacks being driven out of Rosewood, Florida, being driven out of Tulsa.
In the case of Tulsa, the current estimates are maybe 300 people killed and thousands wounded. The numbers were smaller in Rosewood, but it was similar.
And there were reparations granted in the case and Rosewood by the Florida State legislature. Not so in Tulsa. I talk about some of the reasons why, even though I think there’s a better case for reparations in Tulsa.
One of the things that I focus on in the book is that the more successful cases have come through the legislative process and not the legal process. I mention the Chicago case, Rosewood, etc. I could mention other cases, but there are some very difficult obstacles in terms of pursuing the legal course.
I refer to them as, “The Three S’s.” One is standing: you have to prove that you have been harmed by a particular action, and of course, in the case of slave reparations, that’s impossible today. Another is the statute of limitations which limits you in many cases to bringing a case. If you were harmed over seven years ago by this in some cases. And the third is sovereign immunity: it’s very difficult to sue cities, states, counties, or the federal government. Often, you have to have their permission in order to sue them. In fact, that’s what happened in Florida. They have a process where you can bring a case against the state and an ombudsperson. All of that helped in the case of Florida. They don’t have that in Oklahoma.
So those are difficult hurdles to overcome, and the more successful cases have been through legislatures. And of course, now there is a bill in Congress, HR 40, that’s been there since 1989 when John Conyers introduced it.
Incidentally, you mentioned successful cases. Really, the current movement for Black reparations was sparked by the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned during WWII. This bill was signed by Ronald Reagan and financial reparations as well as an apology were given to, I think, as I recall, 110,000 Japanese Americans. I don’t want to be quoted exactly, but that’s sort of in the ballpark.
And it was very – it called for a study commission and then that commission made recommendations for various kinds of education and redress. The African American bill was based on that by Conyers. Even though he was a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, he was never able to get hearings on this bill until 2019, and that summer, we had hearings on the bill. Then we got into the election season and those have kind of been backed up now. But you can see it was picked up again by the presidential candidates, and indeed, all the Democratic senators who were candidates for president had endorsed the senate version of HR 40 which Cory Booker was a sponsor of. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren and the rest had signed onto this, and Biden had also said he’d favor the study commission.
The final thing I’ll mention about the impact of the Civil Liberties Act and why I think hearings are important was that you had – when you had hearings in Japanese American communities across the country on this — you had families, grandfathers and grandmothers coming out and talking about how they had been harmed by being interned. Children and grandchildren said, “You know, my parents, my grandparents have never talked about this. They had always held it in.” Many had felt ashamed of this and wouldn’t bring it out.
And so these hearings really brought about some reconciliation, brought about family healing. They let children know how their parents had felt about this and been hurt. It was restorative. We’ve never had a kind of truth and reconciliation around slavery in the United States, or around Jim Crow for example.
So it’s important for us, in terms of the healing process, to hear from people and hear how they’ve harmed if we’re to have any kind of meaningful redress or restitution.
Michael: Boy, yeah. I’m really glad to hear more about these precedents because that makes a lot of difference to people. People are not going to have the courage to leap out into the unknown. But if you can show them, “Look, you actually did apologize here, there and everywhere. And you’re still okay.” That would be a very important stepping stone.
Charles: Yeah. Well, I mean you see examples. I was just reading recently about Dylan Roof and the people that were killed in the church in Charleston, and people forgiving him. That was very powerful. People have said, “How can you do this?” And people talk about it. You can’t live in bitterness. It destroys you internally. This notion of forgiveness has been very important to them.
It’s one of the reasons I think it’s such an important component to reparations. We’ve had a couple of journalists – I think Charles Krauthammer was one of the first, and then more recently, Ross Douthat of the New York Times. They said, “Well, let’s just write a check for $5000 and give it to every African American adult and say we’re done with it, you know? We don’t want to hear about this anymore.”
That misses the whole idea or spirit of reparations. It sounds like a very American thing to do, however. Let’s just write a check and you take that — I don’t want to hear anymore about it. That’s kind of the conservative solution to this. But, you know, it misses the whole point of reparations and restorative justice.
Michael: Because like everything else in nonviolence, it’s about repairing relationships, not just about getting injustices corrected.
Charles: I think it’s a serious discussion. Most recently I’ve been reading about it in terms of the movement to abolish prisons, in terms of Black Lives Matter and parts of that movement. One of the things they talk about in terms of defunding the police is defunding prisons and eliminating prisons and talking about other forms of punishment. But there’s a real split in that movement between people that say, “Well, we don’t want drug offenders in prison. There are other ways to deal with that.”
But what about the policeman that chokes Eric Gardner to death, for example? Should we just say, “Well we’ll find some other way to deal with him or should he be put in prison?” It’s really split the movement because some people say, “Police who behave violently and don’t uphold their oath should be punished with prison.” And others have said, “The whole purpose of our movement is to do away with prisons.” I think it’s a serious question. I don’t have an answer to that.
And obviously, some of the most effective sort of advocates are people who’ve engaged in these acts, like former gang members who may have robbed and killed and so forth and so on. But then they come back and they have so much credibility among gang members because they’ve been there and they’ve been in the big house and they’ve done all this. And people will listen to them. But you send Professor Henry out there to talk his face blue and they’d say, “Oh, what does he know about it on the ground? He’s read some books.”
So I would have to take it on a case by case basis, I think. That’s the only way you can deal with it – because there are certainly people that exploit their “fame” or popularity and profit from it. And then there are others who become great advocates because they know all the games and tricks and excuses that people tell themselves and can counter that in very effective ways.
It’s difficult to see some of these people that have done some terrible things, sort of lauded and paraded around –and in some cases, profited. One of the laws I really agree with is that if you’re a serial killer and write a popular book that’s a best seller about this, you shouldn’t get the money from that. You shouldn’t get the royalties from that. That needs to go to the victims families or something like that.
Michael: Charles, we are, unfortunately, coming to an end. You mentioned closure before and I don’t feel we have it. I want to talk to you some more. So, we may continue this, but before we completely close out, please remind us about your book because people who have been hearing this program may well want to get it.
Charles: Yeah. The book is entitled, Long Overdue. The Politics of Racial Reparations. It was published by New York University Press, and it was published in 2007. I will mention a more recent book that really focuses on the economics. People want to know how this would work and how you could calculate the wages from slavery and so forth and so on. This is written by a couple of economists, William Dougherty and A Kristen Mullen, and it’s called, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century. They deal with some of the discussion of Black wealth, for example, where the average – the median income for a Black head of household with a college of education — is less than that for a white head of household without a high school diploma.
So, when one talks about programs for redistribution of wealth, checks don’t get it. We’re really talking about a wealth gap, you know, home ownership, education funds. These kinds of things get at wealth because wealth is intergenerational, it’s passed on. I think Dougherty and Mullen estimate that a quarter of Americans can trace their wealthy back to the Homestead Acts which gave essentially 10% of the land in the United States to settlers who would go and improve that land. There have been several, but the important acts were in 1862 and 1866 — and for many reasons Blacks were generally denied that homeownership.
At the same time, we were talking about Sherman’s 40 acres and a mule, the government is passing out land grants of 160 acres to settlers. And we can see that reflected in current wealth statistics of Blacks having essentially 10% of the wealth of white families on the average.
Michael: There you go again: poverty, racism, and militarism.
Charles: Yeah. I’ve heard that phrase somewhere before.
Michael: The three horsemen of the American apocalypse.
Michael: Well, Charles, thank you very, very much. We’re really grateful for you, for this insider information and so well documented. Hope to talk to you soon.
Charles: It’s always a pleasure talking with you, Michael, and thank you for having me on.
Michael: Very welcome, Charles.
Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Michael Nagler and Charles Henry talk about politics of reparations and restorative justice. Let’s turn now to the next segment of the show which is the Nonviolence Report with Michael Nagler.
Michael: Greetings everyone and welcome to today’s edition of the Nonviolence Report. I’m Michael Nagler from the Metta Center and I’m going to present a mix of resources and happenings today. It’ll also be somewhat of a mix geographically. We’ll be moving around, starting from pretty local stuff.
If you go online and look for something called, “SoCoCan,” that’s Sonoma County Can, SoCoCan. They are publishing something called, “Peace Press” which I haven’t often mentioned here before. Peace Press is a newsletter, and it has some very thoughtful articles from time to time, including a recent article which I was very sorry to read about chocolate and where it comes from.
Meanwhile, the network of Spiritual Progressives which is produced by Michael Lerner and Cat Zavis in Berkeley, they have six weeks of online Spiritual Activism Training coming up starting on Tuesdays, February 16 is the first of those. It will be at 4:30 PM Pacific Time and 7:30 PM back east. Spiritual activism is a concept which Rabbi Lerner and I kind of introduced back in 2005 at a highly successful 4-day conference in Berkeley back when you could do that sort of thing.
Going a little further afield, DC Peace Teams which performed such remarkable and such useful service during the elections and even earlier than that, during the January 6 event at the nation’s Capitol. They have a lot of offerings coming up. On the 13th there’s an introduction to Active Bystander Intervention; that’s how to step in when a quarrel is starting without making things worse or endangering yourself.
They’re going to be giving advanced training in UCP, Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping, which was mainly a cross-border operation when it was first conceptualized. It was based on the concept of the Peace Army, but it’s come to be used more and more recently in domestic interventions — fortunately for us. They’re offering three restorative justice circles on Valentine’s Day. What an appropriate way to celebrate that day. The first one is going to be called, “Reimagining Romance,” that may be over already by the time you get this, but romance will not be. Going from self-sabotage to self-compassion on the 17th and staying connected on the 24th of this month. You can sign up through their Facebook page, DC Peace Teams.
Sundays, going from February 28 onto March, there is a very interesting group called, The Palestine Youth Advocate Network, and they will be doing strategy skill-building workshops and peer campaigns, strategy support groups, and other things to strengthen our organizing and expanding the possibilities for policy that advances Palestinian and collective liberation.
Now, a few events that we should take note of: the International Criminal Court has decided that they have the jurisdiction to investigate, and if they are found, to prosecute war crimes carried out by Israel on the Palestinian Territories. This is quite a landmark decision. This means that if Israel is brought before the world court, the United States would not be able to shield them from prosecution. What that prosecution will actually mean and how to carry it out, that might be probably mostly symbolic, but with an important resonance.
The issue here is that whenever the United Nations has tried to bring Israel to heel for some of this behaviour, the United States has prevented that because we are a member of the Security Council. But the United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court. We refused to join that court and so did Israel. Some are saying that it’s for similar reasons, that we were afraid we would not really stand up to scrutiny.
Be that as it may, I think it’s an interesting issue for us here coming at it from our nonviolent perspective. What should we think about prosecution? Partly, it’s a question of accountability which becomes increasingly important in today’s world. Accountability is kind of a second best in the view of strictly principled nonviolence because better than making a person accountable is to give them the opportunity to take responsibility. Of course, accountability can sometimes do that. Or it can simply dig them in deeper in their defensiveness.
Then there’s the whole question of this as essentially a retributive process. It is not, to my knowledge, any opportunity for a restorative outcome if Israel is, in fact, found to have carried out crimes – war crimes, crimes against humanity. Between you and me, we know that that was done in major operations against Gaza and so forth. So that leaves us with interesting questions to think about and where we should come out with this event, but it will certainly be an interesting thing to watch.
Now, on the climate front is a very interesting report that was issued on Thursday. It’s a joint declaration by a group, dozens actually, of leading scientists from around the world. Their finding is that the entire global energy system could be shifted to 100% renewables by 2035, 14 years down the road, which would probably be just enough time. If we start working on it now, when we reach that goal of 100% renewables by 2035, we will have made a major contribution to reversing climate change.
They issued this report because there were many defeatist and cynical claims that this would not be possible. They’re arguing that it’s not only necessary to avert climate disaster, but it is imminently achievable. It has been shown over and over again this would not be at the expense of jobs. It would simply create newer jobs which may be as lucrative or not, but it would certainly be much easier on the conscience. These would be jobs that people feel go about doing, and I think this element of human work is almost never mentioned, which is why I want to outline it here.
You can have a very highly paid job, but somewhere in your conscience you know that you’re doing damage to the life support system of your own planet and the planet of all of us, and that is going to, as we used to say, “Rankle inner-conscience,” and cause aversion of what the military calls, “moral injury.” So, this is a very, very good development and it comes to us at a very good time when we have a much more responsive president in Washington.
Meanwhile, there’s a very different part of the spectrum of climate work. Fifty water protectors recently shut down work for an entire day on the Line 3 Pipeline. Two of those protectors locked themselves onto a pipe-laying excavator. You can sort of imagine what that machine does — this is a very dangerous type of operation. President Biden has revoked key permits already for the Keystone XL Pipeline, but he has not yet taken action on the Line 3. Many people are gathering together working on that in different ways.
Going around the world now, both the protests and the repression of them, have been escalating in Myanmar. Hundreds of students and medical workers across the country have been out on the streets protesting, demanding that the military hand power back to the elected politicians of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Democracy Party. The military has blocked Facebook in an attempt to prevent them from organizing effectively. It hasn’t worked completely. It’s had a dampening effect. They have now arrested Aung San Suu Kyi’s long-time confidant, a man named Win Htien, who has been calling for civil disobedience. He’s 79 years old and he’s been arrested for sedition, which can carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
More recently there have been serious repressions with water canons and some cases of life ammunition, mostly aimed over the heads of protestors. Things are heating up on both sides.
The question for us as nonviolence actors, nonviolent strategists would be, “Where do we go from here?” We find ourselves very often recommending on this program that people learn to have a mix of tactics, and this is a very strongly felt, very strongly supported conclusion within the field of nonviolent research. When you have tried protest – and protest isn’t even always the best place to start.
If you remember, perhaps, the escalation curve that we’ve created as a kind of model here at the Metta Center: we divide the escalation of conflict into three phases. In the first phase, communication is possible. That’s when you try nonviolent communication and various types of confrontation, but not confrontational, more like conversation entering into dialogue. If you can resolve a conflict at that level to your satisfaction, well and good. But often, you cannot.
However, the point to be made here is that it’s very important to try that first. If it works, well, then you’re way ahead of the game. If it doesn’t work, you’re partly ahead of the game because you’ve shown your willingness and your ability to do that. And the onus is now on the opponent, people in opposition to you, for not having picked you up on it.
Then you can, from a somewhat stronger position, move into Phase 2 of the escalation curve, which is satyagraha. Even within satyagraha there are, of course, escalations. Gandhi pointed out that he reached the point in the early years of the Freedom Struggle in India where he didn’t even have to carry out satyagraha. All he had to do was alert the British regime that he was going to do it and it would have the desired effect.
The important thing is to be able to switch tactics so that if you’re blocked in one way, you can do an end-run around it and do something else — especially, you can always fall back on constructive program. What would constructive program look like right now in Myanmar? Since they already have an alternative government, it’s a little bit difficult to predict standing here so far from the field.
However, there usually is scope for educational work, for training, and for strategizing. And that can be done in relative safety, even in a place like Myanmar, so that when you do have to go back on the street — which shouldn’t really, almost never, be your first choice — then you do so from a position of greater strength.
In Cairo, during their Arab Spring Revolution there, people were blocked or rather made vulnerable in Tahrir Square when they were attacked by both formal and informal security apparatuses. People in uniform, just ordinary citizens riding in on camels and horses started hitting people and so they switched from a collective tactic to a dispersive tactic and were soon meeting in little nodes here and there all around the city.
All of those things should be thought of. We hope that some of that will be carried rather than this grinding conflict which is, on one hand, very harmful to individuals involved, and on the other hand, does not seem to be getting us anywhere.
Coming back to Turtle Island, at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, there is a group called, Prevent Nuclear War Maryland and they are protesting against the university’s involvement in nuclear weapon research. This is kind of nostalgic for yours truly because that was one of the issues that I loudly worked on when I was still a professor at Berkeley because we were one of the main universities facilitating atomic nuclear weapon research and carrying it out.
It will be interesting to see what will be the impact of this protest many years down the road when the nuclear weapons ban has come into force as a global norm. It has been supported by the requisite number of the nation-states in the United Nations, and the United States is right now, like all the other nuclear states, out of compliance with international law. It will be very interesting to see what will be the outcome now when we have this sort of pincer movement coming down from the top through legal action and constitutional channels and also popular protests. That can often be a very effective combination.
Here in California there’s an interesting constructive program development happening. This is the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative. Now you may say, “What does this have to do with constructive program, much less nonviolence?” Well, what they’re trying to create is a social experiment called, “Land Without Landlords.” In other words, they’re working toward collective property ownership and community wealth and they’re doing this not through protest, yet, but through building connections with landlords and making it feasible for them to put their houses on the market. I’d like to find out more about this because I was wondering how they do that compensation.
It’s interesting, even going back to the resistance against slave holding in the south where you had exactly one person, a Quaker, John Woolman, who actually went down to the south to help slaveholders transition to a safer, less violent situation. That’s a very powerful way of getting rid of an unjust situation.
I’ve often thought about how this was done against the hunting of baby seals in Canada and Alaska because there was an episode some – oh, about 20 years ago — where one group was finding it impossible to stop the seal hunts. You remember we were looking at a sabotage group from our last program? They found it impossible to get them to stop until they hit on the idea of presenting them with alternative forms of income.
The company, it turned out, didn’t want to be hunting those seals as long as they had an alternative. It reminds me of a friend of ours in Canada trying to stop oil exploitation which was ruining their water supply, they were approached one day by a truck driver who was part of the company who was in tears. He said, “I hate to do this. I have to do this to support my family. If you show me an alternative, I will leave.”
Now in Nunavut, that’s the area of Canada which was ceded to First Nations People, there’s an iron mine called Baffinlands Iron Mines. It’s the name of the company. They want to create a railway and double the mine’s annual output. Once again, we have 50 Inuit protestors gathered in front of the community hall where hearings have been taking place, to raise their grievances. They say that the agreement between the Nunavut Inuit and the Canadian government is being ignored, which is unfortunately fairly common.
Originally, there was a good relation between the locals and the mining company, but the Indigenous wisdom influenced the actions of the company and made them aware of the importance of maintaining the health of the wildlife. But that has broken down, and so now, in addition to these showing up at the community meetings, a blockade has been formed at the air strip and the road leading to the mine with protestors refusing to move until they feel heard and their concerns are addressed.
That’s the Nonviolence Report for now. I look forward to sharing more exciting upbeat news about the world and nonviolence in two weeks.
Hey everyone, you’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank our mother station KWMR as well as all of the stations that syndicate the show afterward. Thank you so much. You can find us at Waging Nonviolence.org. If you want to learn more about the Metta Center’s work in promoting nonviolence worldwide, visit us at MettaCenter.org. You can find an archive of all of the shows on Spotify and all the places that you get your podcasts. I want thank Matt Watrous, Jewelia White, and to you, all of our listeners. Until the next time, let’s take care of one another.
Transcription by Matthew Watrous.